History Today: Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist by Elizabeth Goldring

It is July 1571, and Elizabeth I is sitting for a portrait in “the open ally of a goodly garden”, almost certainly at Hampton Court. The portrait is “in little” – what we would now call a watercolour miniature, although the latter term didn’t enter the English language until Sir Philip Sidney introduced it from... Continue Reading →

Renaissance Studies: Thomas Churchyard: Pen, Sword & Ego by Matthew Woodcock

If, as every self-help book will tell you, persistence really were the key to success, Thomas Churchyard would surely have been the most successful writer of the sixteenth century. Reader, he was not – but it was not for want of trying. One measure of Churchyard’s distant familiarity with fame is that Matthew Woodcock’s Thomas... Continue Reading →

TLS: Summer’s Last Will and Testament by Thomas Nashe

  Saturday 30 September saw a unique staging of Thomas Nashe’s only extant whole-authored play, Summer’s Last Will and Testament, in the Great Hall of the Bishop’s Palace in Croydon, where it was first performed in the early autumn of 1592. The performance was a joint venture between the Edward’s Boys company, from the King... Continue Reading →

TLS: So High A Blood by Morgan Ring

So High A Blood explores in detail the life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox, a Tudor princess without whom, perhaps, there would have been no Stewart succession and no subsequent union between England and Scotland. Born in 1515, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, by her second husband... Continue Reading →

John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship: an interview with Andy Kesson

Last week saw the launch of Andy Kesson’s brilliant new book John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship, which makes an eloquent and powerful case for both the quality of Lyly’s work and its importance to early modern literature as we understand it. It is full of fascinating insights into literary and print culture and commerce... Continue Reading →

Review: Elizabeth I and her people – National Portrait Gallery exhibition

Those whose interest lies outside the Tudor era could be forgiven for exasperation at the extent to which the long sixteenth century still dominates our nation’s cultural life. But the new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – Elizabeth I and Her People, which runs until January 5 2014 – is nevertheless good enough to... Continue Reading →

The Dutch Church: the dissolution and its tragic aftermath

It is convenient for historians to conceive of history in neat discrete categories, but all too often that approach both obscures continuities and suggests that events are less brutally random than they are. There are, for instance, many ways of writing about the influence of the English Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries on... Continue Reading →

Ben Jonson: his early life and how it shaped him

Contrary as always, Ben Jonson could cast horoscopes – but didn’t believe in them. What, then, would he have made of his own? In some ways, perhaps, he was born lucky: winter offered the worst chances of survival for an Elizabethan baby; Jonson was born in midsummer. Even so, he was fortunate to survive. One... Continue Reading →

Sir Thomas Smith and covetousness in history

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about Sir Thomas Smith, late in life and in poor health, complaining about how difficult it was to work for Elizabeth I. (I also quoted his trenchant observation on the implications of the Ridolfi plot here.) Smith is a fascinating example of those apparently minor figures in Tudor... Continue Reading →

Richard Tarlton: the greatest star of the Elizabethan theatre

I have written elsewhere – see for instance my post on the life of Thomas Kyd – on the way in which the more or less arbitrary survival of documentary evidence distorts our ideas about the shape and richness of Elizabethan culture. And for us, looking back, the theatre of the period looks like a... Continue Reading →

The Ridolfi plot

On May 16 1568 the catholic regnant Scottish queen Mary Stuart arrived in England. She had been deposed, marginalised  and effectively disowned by the protestant establishment in Scotland, where her young son James VI, aged 13 in 1569, was now a minority king. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, and therefore had... Continue Reading →

Sir Walter Ralegh and the Babington plot

I was not, truth be told, expecting to write much, if at all, about the world of espionage when I first set out to research The Favourite, my recent book about the relationship between Elizabeth I and Ralegh. After all, Ralegh’s protestant credentials in the fight against imperial Spain would appear, at first sight, unimpeachable.... Continue Reading →

The Babington plot: the capture and execution of the conspirators

On Tuesday 20th September 1586, seven Catholic men were bound to hurdles in the Tower of London – one of them, a priest named John Ballard, on a single sled, the others two-a-piece – and then dragged westward on their final slow journey through the city’s autumnal streets to a hastily erected scaffold in the... Continue Reading →

Working for Elizabeth I: a secretary complains

I don't think anyone could look at the court of Elizabeth I and the extraordinary range of political and intellectual talent it contained – not to mention the vanities and ambitions accompanying them – and feel anything but awe at her ability to assert her unwavering authority over them for over four decades. It had... Continue Reading →

The gains doth seldom quit the charge: Henry Noel at the court of Elizabeth I

This is the third in my series of posts on a disparate group of courtiers in the 1570s and 1580s – for the purposes of this blog, I am calling them the Lost Elizabethans – who I first encountered researching The Favourite. Although well known in their day – I suspect both Noel, the subject... Continue Reading →

Dreams of escape – George Gifford: courtier, con-man, conspirator

Despite the notoriety which still clouds men like Anthony Babington, executed in 1586 for plotting to assassinate Elizabeth I, history's selective memory has been kind in overlooking the dubious career of other men who flirted with regicide in the same period. Indeed, one man, despite never having attempted the act, seems to have been almost... Continue Reading →

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